England opened his barely-touched paperback copy of The Sun Also Rises and flipped past the title page and legal nonsense until he got to the first page. He read the first two sentences carefully, skimmed the rest of the page, closed his eyes, sighed, and shut the book.
He was quite comfortable on his bed, propped up against a small stack of pillows, legs splayed out in front of him, with the whole day free to do whatever he pleased.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t seem to figure out what that was. He set The Sun Also Rises onto the growing pile of books on his nightstand. It was only 10:00 in the morning and he’d already rejected several old favorites, as well some toward which he was largely indifferent. He skimmed over them, reading the sideways titles: Harry Potter (books 2, 3, and 5), The Two Towers , Canterbury Tales, Oliver Twist, Animal Farm, The Metamorphosis. All had failed to keep his attention for longer than a few pages. At this point, he was beginning to lose hope.
From somewhere deep inside his pants pocket, he felt a vibrating sensation. His phone was ringing. He wrestled for it, struggling to get his hand into his pocket at the awkward angle. Thankfully, he got to it before the ringing stopped. He answered without bothering to check the name-- Any conversation with anyone on Earth was better than this boredom.
“I’m dying.” France’s familiar baritone announced into his ear.
England, unphased, lifted an eyebrow, and, remembering that France couldn’t see him, queried, “What makes you say that?”
“I have a fever of 39,” France whined. “I feel terrible and I’m bored. And I feel terrible. ”
“You said that twice,” England pointed out, expecting some playful jibe in response.
France only made a quiet noise somewhere between a moan and a sigh.
“Alright, alright.” England moved to sit up. “I’ll come over. Be there soon.”
He hung up the phone and stood to face his bookshelf. “Better bring something to read on the train…” He decided on The Great Gatsby and, after a moment’s thought, grabbed The Idiot as well. If American literature couldn’t keep his attention, he doubted very much Russian could, but it was worth a shot.
He spent a very listless half an hour on the train opening and closing one of the books, reading one paragraph from another then reading it again, flipping through to the middle and reading a sentence, shutting both books and putting them in his bag, then pulling one out and starting over again.
At least in the taxi, he had something interesting to look at as he stared out the window, distractedly thumbing through the pages of The Idiot.
France opened the door in his pajamas. England was so startled he nearly dropped his book. “You look fucking terrible.”
“Thank you, that’s just what I wanted to hear,” France said, clinging to the door.
“I’m serious.” England gently moved him out of the way and shut the door. “You look like Death. Or a ghost. Or Death’s ghost.” He appraised France with cool green eyes that masked his worry. France was pale, face drawn as he swayed slightly on his feet with nothing to cling to for balance.
“You’re very tactful.” France bowed his head and pressed his knuckles into the bridge of his nose, eyes squeezed shut. England drew in a breath to speak, but France cut him off. “I don’t want to see a doctor.” He reopened his eyes and shook his head. “At least let me be miserable here in my own home. No house calls, either.”
“Alright, alright.” England set his bag down and batted at France with his book. “At least get in bed. You look like you’re about to collapse.”
With the thick tome pressed to the small of his back, France allowed England to march him down the hall to his bedroom.
“What is that you’re stabbing me with?” France asked, clipping his shoulder on the doorframe as he turned to look behind him.
England didn’t answer until France was in bed. “Just something to read on the train. Do you- Do you want me to read it to you?”
“What is it?”
“The Idiot .”
“Dostoevsky.” France sniffed. “You can do better.” He motioned down the hall. “Check the living room.”
England set the book on the nightstand and went away, thinking to himself. I guess I never did try any French authors…
The first book that caught his eye was The Three Musketeers. He smiled as he picked it up. Yes, this felt right.
As he reentered the bedroom, he held it up and France nodded approvingly. England couldn’t help but notice that he was shaking despite his face being lit up with a red heat.
England kicked off his shoes and sat on the bed next to France, scooting in close so France could rest his head on England’s shoulder.
“ Le premier lundi du mois d’avril 1625…” The French was clumsy in his mouth, but he soon got the hang of it. His accent faded a little and soon France’s whispered corrections dwindled away to nothing.
France fell asleep long before England had even finished reading chapter one, but England continued to read in silence until he reached the end.
He sighed contentedly in the stillness. Perhaps this day wasn’t a waste after all.